REVIEW: Caitlyn Smith’s “Supernova” is Broadened and Heightened Sound

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When a singer’s got a big ol’ voice, a producer has a couple of routes he can take the album in – keep the instrumentation on the spare side to showcase the singer’s voice, or pump up the decibel level to match the vocals. On previous records, Minnesota singer-songwriter Caitlyn Smith had ended up on the somewhat softer side. On her new release, Supernova, Smith, with the help of producer Christian “Leggy” Langdon, chose to broaden and heighten the sound in order to complement the ambitious nature of the songs. The result is a big, full record that tackles growing into adult responsibilities while still maintaining the lifestyle of a touring musician.

This bigger-is-better approach took hold during the recording of “Long Time Coming,” so it’s fitting that the song leads off the album. The track announces itself with aggressive percussion before Smith chimes in with a story of striving to break free – “Now I want to change but don’t know what it feels like/Keep having these visions of me without you.” There’s a heavily distorted guitar solo, and the music – cacophonous and dramatic – also threatens to slips its moorings, before Smith reigns it in at the end with a final, shouted “But I’m going to be alright.”

Lovers both good and bad are scattered about the album. “Damn You For Breaking My Heart” provides some of the latter – “Your lies are cheaper than the wine/That we were drinking on the night that we lost it all.” “Put Me Back Together” strides toward soaring pop ballad territory while finding at least some sort of substitute for the bad – “You’re my f***ed-up remedy.” And “Fly Away” is a straight-up country pop song about a boy who gets it right: “You still want me when I’m a little bit mean.”

Supernova is at its best when Smith tackles change and the difficulty she has accepting it. “I Can’t” finds her struggling in a place she wants to leave behind – “This Ain’t a 20-minute town no more” – but inertia has her stuck: “All the time and the whiskey I’ve wasted/That I ain’t ever getting back.” And the title track is slower, softer and more pensive as she envisions her young children reaching the age she’s at now – “Well you grow up, pack it all up, in a hand-me-down car/Throw out a wave and you just can’t wait for your life to start.” She sees the importance in the time she has with her young family: “You are my sunshine and right now you’re all mine.” Backed primarily, and subtly, by Langdon’s strings and synth and her own piano, this track allows Smith’s voice to shine, just as it should.

Supernova was produced by Langdon and Paul Moak, recorded by Langdon and Zack Zinck, mixed by Langdon and Moak, and mastered by Stephen Marcussen. Additional musicians include Tyler Burkum (electric and slide guitars, background vocals), Charlie Lowell (keys), Tony Lucido (bass), Gordie Sampson (piano), Aaron Sterling (drums and percussion), and Joel Shearer (electric and acoustic guitars and banjo).

You can order Supernova here: https://caitlynsmith.shop.musictoday.com/store/

Check out Caitlyn Smith tour dates here: https://www.caitlynsmith.com/

Catch a live performance from Caitlyn Smith next Monday (March 16) on NBC’s Today Show.

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